Tag Archives: children

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The Importance of Family at Learning Circle Preschool

At Learning Circle Preschool, we want to make sure there’s a family presence in each classroom and that families feel welcome to participate in school life. We do it in a variety of ways. Having family photos in every classroom, available every day, helps assure that there are on-going conversations among the children about the people important in their lives. Looking at photos of family activities and trips also helps children become more aware of the many experiences we share, and of some of the ways in which we may be different.

There’s nothing like a classroom visit to help a family member get a concrete sense of classroom life and what the school experience means to the children. It’s a lovely way to get a look into what school is like for each child.

Some parents are curious about something a child’s teachers mentioned at a recent conference. Others enjoy sharing a favorite recipe on a day the class is cooking. Some like to help teachers support children, maybe by sitting with children and writing down their ideas as they dictate descriptions of drawings and stories to add to their writing journals. Some come to help take photos of classroom activities or projects. Many family members like to read with children, perhaps to help celebrate a child’s birthday, or for no special reason. Some family members just come to sit and watch for a while, or join the class outdoors.

Some family members help us offer special events and experiences for the children that we wouldn’t be able to offer without them. Joining a class on a field trip, planting a tree or weeding the gardens, or helping out at our annual Food Day celebration are examples of some of the ways family members directly engage with the children and curriculum.

We hope that family members will feel welcome to celebrate their family cultures with the school community as well. We’ve had family members come in to teach children a second language, or read bi-lingual books. Some family members have shared food, games, or other traditions with the children. Others have sent children postcards from places they have traveled or where extended family lives. Some share skills and work experiences. Every year the mix is different, and we celebrate each contribution to our program with the children.

It’s also great to look forward to our annual family events, when children and parents spend time together. Some of these times are entirely social, like our farm days at Pakeen Farm in the fall, or our annual multicultural Family Luncheon each spring. Some have an educational component, like our open door days when we encourage family members to play with their children in the classrooms to learn about how children learn and why we do what we do. Some events celebrate the season, like our annual Family Dance right before the winter holiday break. Some are as informal as our beginning year playdates when families and children get to know each other on the playground or when families invite each other to meet and play after school at Houghton’s Pond.

Children feel validated and that their school life is important when their families participate. Children feel connected and valued when it’s clear that important people at school value their home lives and experiences. Children feel safe and trust the school environment when they see and feel their family member’s trust. Every year our efforts look a little different, but we hope to help build a community that connects grownups and children alike!

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Community Building and Celebrations

The holiday season is approaching, and in our classrooms, many activities revolve around family, family gatherings, giving to others and diverse celebrations.

Our meeting discussions, books and activities stimulate many conversations about families. We find that children return to their photo albums to share family experiences together, and we’ve use books about diverse families to motivate children to draw their own families, and to think about the people they love who they consider family. For some in these discussions, family is the people (and pets) that live together, but for many children even the first family discussions include grandparents, cousins and other extended family. At this time of year, when so many children travel or participate in hosting extended family for gatherings, the concept of family extends.

Starting from this family focus, we begin to encourage children to extend their connections from family to a wider community. The school community also has people who care for each other, and offering opportunities to connect as a whole school gives children a concrete way to deepen relationships here. Our seasonal “feast” is one of the first whole school events that children plan, prepare for, and then enjoy together as a caring community. We want to encourage children to give something of themselves (their time, their conversation, their ideas, their food and gifts) as we come together to celebrate.

Our feast is a time for the whole school to gather for a special snack and sharing. We meet in the kindergarten room, share foods prepared with the children, sing songs, and participate in a traditional “give away” (a Native American custom of distributing gifts to the whole community). During the two weeks or so before the feast, children help plan and then cook food, (this year green beans, carrots, trail mix, apple sauce, and more). We make gifts so that each child will both give and receive gifts from other children (this year painted pine cones, necklaces and book marks). And we learn songs and games that we can enjoy together at the feast and throughout our school year together.

At the same time we talk about sharing ourselves with others, we encourage children to stretch their ideas about community even wider. This is a good time of year to begin to talk together about the neighborhoods we live in, and our connections to that wider community. And as we think about what everyone needs to feel safe and happy, we can start to talk about ways we can help our neighbors who might need something we can give.

One concrete way to do this is to ask families to support our giving projects for local food pantries serving the communities in which our children live. We begin at this time of year, but hope to continue right through the school year, with the generous support of our families. Children are encouraged to bring in a donation, and then work together to sort and bag whatever comes in, so that it’s ready to give.

This year’s feast was the culmination of lots of work and caring on the part of the children, full of conversation and good will. We wish all of you a peaceful holiday season!

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Seasonal Celebrations

As we move towards the holiday season, and as our days continue to grow shorter and darker, festivals that feature light are a natural way to begin to talk about diverse celebrations with the children. Whether it’s Diwali, the mid-autumn moon festivals, Halloween with its lit jack-o lanterns, Hanukkah, birthdays, or Christmas, light plays an important part in many family traditions, stories, and celebrations.

This year we began the discussion by making floating lanterns with the children, informed by Diwali celebrations. We found India on the globe, and looked at a variety of tools, fabrics, and artifacts from India. Children discovered that games we know, like chutes and ladders, come from India, and noticed that the wooden printing tools we looked at are very much like the tools we use for up and down printing here at school. We talked together about how family traditions often include family stories and that stories can be read in books, told and simply listened to, painted onto fabric or other media, or even danced.

After children decorated their lanterns and added “pretend light” to represent a candle, we filled our metal tray with water so that we could float our lanterns all together. We used tea lights in each lantern for a beautiful effect!

Children noticed that some of the lanterns floated but others sank (too little water? too heavy?) We added some water, and made some currents with our breath as wind to move as many lanterns as we could down the “river”.

A lovely shared experience!

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Food Day Festival 2015

We recently celebrated our fourth annual Food Day Festival here at Learning Circle Preschool with a fantastic group of volunteers, engaged children, and visitors from the community.

Children spent the morning on our playground cleaning out garden beds and planting garlic, printing with fruits and vegetables, investigating and documenting observations of a variety of heirloom squash and other plants, snapping beans, exploring rainbow chard, reading books about gardens and harvesting and more. There was tremendous interest among both children and adults in composting. We have our new compost container in position, and we’ve already begun to collect “good garbage” for the compost in every classroom! We hear that families are starting to compost at home too.

In one classroom, children spent some classroom time chopping apples to make applesauce. What a wonderful sensory experience – the smell of that sauce filled our school!

We had two neighborhood walks to Brookwood Farm. On the way, we looked carefully for signs of life near the stone walls we passed, and enjoyed familiar landmarks we pass on our way to the farm. Children noticed how steep and rocky the reservation land across from us is (we are at the foot of Great Blue Hill) and noticed the many vibrant colors of leaves around us. When we arrived at the farm, we saw work in progress as beds were being cleared, and spent time in the sensory garden, observing and experiencing the variety of seeds, smells, textures, and plants of the season.

Sharing a beautiful fall day like this is truly inspiring. It gives renewed energy to the work we do with children through our early sprouts curriculum and with the many aspects of our curriculum that help children connect with their environment and the natural world. Thanks to all of you who shared your time and enthusiasm with us.

We hope you’ll find time to share these photos with your children as you remember the day. And for those who could not attend, please don’t hesitate to ask questions and share your ideas about how these themes will continue through the projects and themes we share with children throughout the school year.

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Let's act out the story!

Using Music to Enhance a Literacy Experience

In every classroom, we’ve been reading and retelling folktales, and one of the favorites has been The 3 Little Pigs. We decided to use an afternoon music group to see if the children would be interested in creating a sound script that could liven up their story, and, maybe, encourage some of the children to ask to act out the story.

We started by reading the story together (using a favorite version that clearly implies some sounds and actions) and talking about the various characters and what they do. Then, children used a variety of body sounds and percussion instruments to represent the important actions:

• Building a house of straw – ch ch ch ch with seed and other gentle shakers
• Building a house of sticks – tapping rhythm sticks and hands
• Building a house of bricks – loud slow thumping on the carpet (bricks are heavy and it’s hard work) with a large low drum
• Knocking at the door – knocking on the floor while tongue clicking
• Running away – quick patching in a running pattern
• Falling in a pot of hot water – splish splash

Children agreed that a wolf has a low voice, and the pigs had higher voices so everyone acted accordingly, and we told the story with sounds while a teacher narrated (read the book).

The chickadee class has been retelling the story spontaneously ever since. Not all the children were in the first music group experience, but now everyone uses the same sound effects for their play. Children choose roles now, and some are the audience and musicians, watching with the narrator as the story is acted out. Whenever the book is chosen at reading times, a crowd comes over and requests for the chance to act out the story are often made. And we’ve been watching as many children build “houses” in the block area, create pretend games, and tell stories.

Giving children opportunities to put stories into action (have a play) and use their growing pretend skills adds enthusiasm and excitement to our shared readings of familiar stories. A play gives structure and action to the parts of a story or book that we teachers would like children to be able to identify – titles, authors, characters, narrators, etc. in a way that is engaging and meaningful for just about everyone.

Music helps represent the characters and actions in a way that is both clear and memorable to the actors. In working together and taking a part, children come to realize that there are times when working together leads to a different, and sometimes more interesting, result than working alone. They also begin to understand that practicing improves the result, and that it is often worthwhile to try more than once and develop ideas and skills together. But one of the best by-products of these experiences is that children create and take ownership of the play with all its parts on their own and discover they can accomplish great things – in their pretend, in their own stories, and with stories that everyone knows and loves.

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